Sitting in my home office at Starbucks the other afternoon, I heard a voice, "Is that Mrs. Linklater?" [Actually, he used my first name, but I don't use it here.] I looked up from my latest attempt to link a client's website to a offsite blog, which should be easy, but wasn't going well, and standing there was a guy I had first met more than thirty years ago. I assume he's still 12 years younger than I, which probably put him in third grade back then.
He was a coach on a volleyball team I had joined, when I entertained the notion of becoming a decent middle blocker. Unfortunately, as tall as I was, I was only a mediocre hitter -- thanks in part to a 3" vertical leap and bad timing. My only hope to put the ball down was getting a low, quick set, called a "one." It was mine to make or fake, when we were running plays called "X" and "Y." The quick set was the only one I could hit with any power, because no timing was required on my part. The setter would put the ball exactly where I needed it AFTER I jumped. I was already in the air when she put it up. I didn't have to go to the ball. The ball came to me. When I went up she also had the option of setting a player coming from behind me. Then I would just fake the hit. I remember explaining riveting stuff like this to Tim Weigel, a beloved sportswriter here in Chicago. He sat courtside with me at a match between the Cuban Olympic Gold Medalists and the US Men's National Team in the vicinity of 1980. He had no clue about the sport. Except from high school intramurals. But not once did he take a single note as I explained the rules, pointed out the plays, and gave him the stats of the stars on the teams. He not only spelled everyone's name right, but he wrote an article for the next day's paper that had all the information I told him nearly verbatim.
You didn't ask, but when you watch the Olympics this fall, you can regale your friends with some volleyball trivia. Every set has a number. A "five" is a high outside set, often beyond the width of the net. And always way beyond my skill set to spike. A "four" is high, but not out as far. A "Shoot" is a lower, faster "four" that shoots the ball into position from across court, timed to throw off the defense. A "three" has a lower arc and travels less than a "four." A "two" is lower than a three and positioned straight up the middle. A "one" is the lowest, fastest set and it's also up the middle. Then you get variations -- like a "31", which is at the "one" height but set to the "three" position. Having said that, I haven't played, except to "pepper" with another player, since volleyball went to full-time rally scoring and added liberos. So my knowledge of the sport may no longer be relevant. The only good news is that the net is lower for my age group. If only I could play.
Which brings me to how I felt when I saw the remnants of the OLD boyfriend I mentioned earlier. I realized HE was no longer relevant to me, either. He still looked pretty much the same, but he no longer passed the "Would I jump this guy?" test. Worse, I didn't care what he thought about me. It wasn't any one thing. His hair wasn't gray. He wasn't fat or bald. But, for some reason, I didn't even feel like flirting. You could accuse me of being out of hormones, but I think the last vestiges of our on and off "thing" had finally run out of time. We still went through the "how're things going since I saw you last?" drill. We mostly talked about the guys he used to hang out with who are dying off in their early fifties. They're dropping so quickly that the survivors decided to have a pool to choose which one of them would go next. The guy that got picked is an overweight smoker. In fact, the guys who are dead were all smokers.
I have some distinct memories about this old boyfriend. Besides the age difference. Our first date was a dinner at my house. He brought the meal, so I didn't have to cook. The menu was everything you'd ever want to put in a taco. I remember thinking there was a ton of food for us to eat. Enough for three or four people. As I was scarfing down my half of everything, I suddenly realized he wasn't eating his half. Nothing. So I had a refrigerator full of leftovers.
After we started dating, he got his appetite back. But one day, after we broke up the first time, we met accidentally on the street and he asked me to lunch. We both ordered huge hamburgers, big drinks, fries, the works. I polished off mine in a heartbeat. But I noticed his just sat there. He couldn't eat any of it. Not a bite. It's not like he is a delicate flower or anything. The guy is 6'5".
The last time this appetite thing happened was years later, after he got married. I thought we had segued into a working friendship, so I accepted a ride from him to St. Louis, since we were both going there on business. After five hours on the road, we decided to stop at a pasta spot for dinner. I ordered the king-sized lasagne. And ate everything but the design on the plate. He ordered a platter of rotini with marinara sauce -- it was the size of Montana. As I recall, I had finished my pasta and was licking the sauce off the tablecloth, when I noticed that he had barely touched his food at all. Oh, no. Not again.
The other day at Starbucks, now even more years later, he ordered a mocha something and easily finished the whole thing. No hesitation at all. I think whatever or however I was affecting his appetite is finally gone.
The second thing I remember is the first time I met all his friends. We had just started dating. I was 36. He was 24. Most people thought we were the same age. It was winter and everybody was hanging out at a local bar. I was in jeans, a turtleneck, and wearing a down vest, hardly a cougar wardrobe. I heard the guy next to him whisper, "I hear you're seeing an older woman." Apparently his friend didn't have a clue that the older woman was me. "Sure! You want to meet her?" my bf said, turning to introduce me. "So," I said, "Did you think I would be wearing white gloves and pearls?" That was one very chagrined twenty-something.
Of course, as young as I might have thought I looked back in the day, I have a girlfriend who has always looked even younger. In real life, we are only two days apart. But she looks considerably younger than I am. How do I know this? She once came to watch me play tennis at a club I belonged to. I believe we were in our early fifties at the time. After the match, another player came up to us and said, "This must be your daughter." [Nan, you owe me.].
In the center with the 2012 USVA bronze trophy for women 60+ is my friend,
who still looks way more than two days younger than I do.